x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Syrian exodus boost for ailing Lebanese hotels

Thousands of Syrian refugees have flocked into hotels in Lebanon giving some respite to an industry that declined almost 10 per cent last month.

Thousands of Syrian refugees have flocked into hotels in Lebanon giving some respite to an industry that declined almost 10 per cent last month.

Some hoteliers in Beirut are offering special rates to those fleeing the fighting as reverberations from the conflict in Syria continue to be felt across the region.

Mousa Abo Rashed, who works at the La Maison de Hamra hotel apartments in central Beirut, said two families from Damascus had booked long stays there.

"We have special prices for Syrian people. It's starting from US$1,500 [Dh5,509] per month, and usually it's $2,200," said Mr Abo Rashed.

He said the hotel was "about 70 per cent" full, although he added that was usually higher during the peak summer season. At least 30,000 Syrians are estimated to have crossed the border into Lebanon, many fleeing the heavy fighting in Damascus.

In Bhamdoun,a Lebanese summer resort on the road to Damascus to the east of Beirut, hoteliers also reported an influx of visitors from Syria.

Hani Abdel Malek, who works at the Al Safat hotel in Bhamdoun, reported a surge in visitors after July 19.

The hotel's 82 suites stood empty earlier in the month but filled within days as thousands of Syrians fled the violence in their homeland, AFP reported.

But the Syrian refugees are now gradually departing, Mr Abdel Malek said.

"They are leaving on a daily basis, they are going back."

A receptionist at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel in Bhamdoun also said there had been an influx of Syrian guests last week, although he added only about half the rooms were occupied.

Refugees from Syria have helped to offset a decline in tourism to Lebanon after a series of travel warnings by Arab governments telling their citizens not to travel to the country because of security concerns.

According to STR Global, Lebanon's hotel occupancy declined 9.8 per cent last month, while revenue per available room fell by 12.8 per cent compared with the same period last year.

Tourism in several Middle East countries has been hit by the unrest in the region, commentators say. "There has been a downward trend in the past few years," said Gaurav Sinha, who runs Insignia, a travel branding agency in Dubai.

He said there had been an "impact" from the government warnings against travelling to Lebanon. However, he said this may not be a long-term scenario.

"Lebanon is a nostalgic favourite of many Arabs. It's known to be the Riviera of the Arabian world. And it's always been able to bounce back," he said.

Syria's economy is forecast to contract by 8.1 per cent this year, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

Unrest in the country has also hit its neighbours, said Trevor McFarlane, a senior editor at the EIU.

"Business confidence is obviously impacted inside the country but also the neighbouring countries - Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Lebanon," he said.

Aside from the effect on tourism to countries such as Lebanon, Mr McFarlane said the situation in Syria, given the sanctions and impact on transport links, was also likely to hit trade in countries such as Turkey and Jordan.

"I would imagine that trade between Jordan and Syria would be down by 60 per cent. It would have a massive impact," said Mr McFarlane.